Lately, we’ve fallen in love with tamarind in my house- its hint of tangy acidity does wonders for food, especially when combined with sambal belacan or used to marinate pork! Besides mee siam (a Singaporean noodle which can be served stir-fried or with soup/ gravy), we also like to use it to cook this Singaporean assam fish coconut curry.
The most common assam fish dish in Singapore is actually cooked with sugar instead of coconut – will share the recipe for that another time- but I prefer this version as it’s less common and doesn’t require you to add sugar (so I feel healthier!)
Note: this recipe is adapted from a vintage cookbook that came with a calendar. (In Singapore, banks often gift customers with calendars or diaries at the end of the year, and our calendar (from Hong Leong Finance) came with a recipe booklet. Sadly, the calendars these days are much more boring and don’t come with such additions anymore!) Unlike Singapore in the 80s, most of us don’t have time to grate our own coconuts anymore, so I’ve changed the recipe to use packaged coconut cream/ milk instead to make things more convenient for everyone!
If you don’t have white fish at home, this Singaporean Assam fish coconut curry also tastes delicious with pork. I usually use nile fish or sutchi fillet as these are readily available in fillet form for online grocery delivery, but traditionally Singaporean homes would use fish such as Spanish Mackarel (ikan tenggiri), red snapper (ikan merah) and threadfin (ikan kurau).
Unfortunately for vegans or vegetarians who like Asian food, the sauce doesn’t complement the taste of mushrooms very well (I used king oyster mushrooms, a very meaty mushroom that is often used to replace meat in vegan dishes, but the resulting dish wasn’t 1 I’d care to repeat! Will try again with firm tofu and young jackfruit and update once I’ve done so!)
Singaporean assam fish coconut curry
- Knife and cutting board
- Granite mortar and pestle (do not use a ceramic one or you will end up cursing and swearing) Alternatively, give everything a blitz in the blender but it doesn't quite release the flavours in the same way
- 450 g white fish fillets (gutted and descaled) Wash in salt water, then drain dry and cut into 1,5 cm pieces. In Singapore, we use ikan tenggiri, ikan merah and ikan kurau, but you can also use a white fish like cod or tilapia.
- 100 ml coconut cream, mixed with 1 Chinese bowl of water Alternatively grate 1/2 a coconut and mix it with 225 ml of water
- 1 T tamarind paste Mix it with 1/4-1/2 Chinese bowl of water
- salt to taste
- 2 T vegetable oil, or to taste Don't use olive oil! Canola or sunflower works (palm oil is the traditional choice in South East Asia)
Rempah (to be pounded together- cut all the ingredients, where possible, before pounding)
- 4 dried chillies
- 2 lemongrass stalks (white part/ base) Chop extra fine before pounding to make life easier for yourself
- 1 piece turmeric Substitute with turmeric paste or powder if you don't have fresh onhand
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 slice ginger Peel with the back of a spoon if you wish- i sometimes leave the skin on!
- Cut all the ingredients for the rempah, then pound (or blend) till fine.
- Heat the cooking oil then sear the fish till light brown on both sides. Plate
- In the same pan, add more oil if necessary, then fry the pounded rempah. Keep stirring and frying till the oil separates out and you can smell the fragrance of the ingredients.
- Add the coconut and fish to the pan. Salt to taste then bring to the boil.
- Add the tamarind juice and simmer for another 2-3 minutes or till the fish is cooked. Add more water or salt till the gravy is at your ideal consistency/ tastiness.
- Serve with white rice